House lawmakers passed a legislative slate of veterans-themed measures Monday evening, including a new accountability bill for Veterans Affairs Department employees and one that would offer new ID cards for any honorably discharged service member.
The moves, just days before the Memorial Day holiday, received unanimous bipartisan support, illustrating how veterans' issues has become one of the few noncontentious topics in the chamber.
The new accountability bill, sponsored by Rep. Ryan Costello, R-Pa., would require VA officials to maintain all written reprimands and punishments that employees receive as long as they work for the department.
Under current rules, those records are erased within three years. Lawmakers have argued that this allows problem employees to continue to move around within the department and gain promotions with little consequence for past bad behavior.
It also fits in with larger congressional efforts to ease punishment and dismissal rules at the department, which have come under criticism in the last year for only a handful of high-profile firings in the wake of nationwide scandals.
The new ID measure, sponsored by Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., would create official VA cards for all veterans, instead of only those who currently qualify for certain health care and financial benefits.
Buchanan said numerous veterans have complained that forcing them to carry around copies of their DD-214 discharge documents to prove their military service for other public agencies and private business offerings is cumbersome and potentially unsafe, given the personal information on the discharge paperwork.
The cards would be available to veterans for a fee, to be determined by VA.
Other measures approved by the House include reauthorization of several homeless reintegration programs, new financial incentives for service-disabled veterans who own small businesses, and VA contracting preference for firms with high concentrations of veterans among their employees.
Several of the bills already are under consideration in the Senate but must still find time for a full chamber vote before any can be sent to the White House for President Obama to sign into law.
Earlier this year, the House unanimously passed legislation dealing with preventing veteran suicides as one of its first measures of the year.
Lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle have publicly pledged to keep veterans issues separate from partisan fights, although the VA appropriations bill for next year passed along party lines amid concerns over larger government spending priorities.